Johnny McKinstry boasts international managerial stints with Rwanda and Uganda
Just a year back, who would’ve thought Gor Mahia would kick off the 2023/24 Kenyan Premier League as the reigning champs?
Though the club, affectionately called ‘K’Ogalo,’ has a trophy cabinet fuller than most, back-to-back seasons marred by financial instability had cast a long shadow on their prospects.
“Let’s be real, expectations were in the basement,” acknowledges Johnny McKinstry, the club’s head coach, hailing from Northern Ireland.
“On some pre-season days, we were lucky if we had more than a handful of players showing up for drills. But that’s precisely why I saw it as a golden chance to defy the naysayers and pull off something big under tough conditions.”
Globe-Trotter by Design
McKinstry is no stranger to adversity.
In his managerial debut helming the Sierra Leone national team, he steered the squad through the country’s infamous 2014 Ebola crisis. The feat was doubly remarkable considering that, at the age of 27, he was the youngest person ever to manage an international side.
His career roadmap later included pit stops leading the national teams of Rwanda and Uganda, along with club coaching gigs in Lithuania and Bangladesh, before landing his current role in Nairobi.
“I never set out with a globe-trotting coaching career in mind,” McKinstry reminisces, recalling his days as a teen in Northern Ireland working at a clothing store. A co-worker labeled him as someone with “itchy feet,” destined to explore the world. “Sometimes, people see in you what you can’t see in yourself,” he adds, philosophically.
His international jaunts have had a ripple effect on his personal life, too. His partner works in global aid, and he has buddies in the diplomatic arena.
“In this job, you’re practically a national spokesperson,” he observes. “You’ve got to live up to that responsibility, even if it’s for a country that’s not your birthplace.”
The Toon Army and African Adventures
No matter how far he wanders, two job offers would always lure McKinstry back: one from Northern Ireland and another from Newcastle United. As a kid, he worshiped the Newcastle team of the 1990s, often dubbed the ‘Entertainers,’ managed by Kevin Keegan—a man he still considers a hero.
His Newcastle roots ran deep even in Sierra Leone, where he managed a soccer academy founded by ex-Newcastle striker Craig Bellamy. He also remains pals with Jason Tindall, Newcastle’s current assistant manager, ever since their coaching certification days.
“When Newcastle faced Manchester United in the League Cup final, I shot Jason a ‘good luck’ text,” says McKinstry. “But I didn’t dare ask for a ticket!”
A Coach’s Pledge
McKinstry makes one solemn promise to his players: “I can’t guarantee you silverware—that’s out of our hands—but I can promise you’ll evolve, both as players and individuals.”
Benson Omala, who clinched the position of the league’s second-highest scorer last season, attributes the fine-tuning of his skills to his coach.
The promising striker, already an established Kenyan international, is reportedly drawing the gaze of South African powerhouses, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
Community and Heritage
McKinstry’s own stock is on the rise, which means he might soon have tempting offers of his own.
“If you’re honest about your career aspirations, you want to compete at the pinnacle of your field,” he states.
For the moment, however, he relishes his time in Nairobi. The passion of the Gor Mahia fanbase reminds him of the fervor associated with Celtic or Rangers fans, deeply embedded in the community. This is consistent with the club’s origins, which trace back to a welfare union for the Luo ethnic group.
“Life in soccer is like navigating a river full of bends,” McKinstry reflects. “Doors open and close based on your current performance. Right now, I’m focused on making Gor Mahia great again.”
What Lies Ahead
Although Gor Mahia’s transfer ban has been lifted, they still face scrutiny after losing their qualification for the upcoming continental Champions League by CAF.
Nevertheless, the signs look positive for the upcoming season, especially since their breakout star, Omala, is sticking around. They started the league with a 1-1 draw against Sofapaka and grabbed Kenya’s Charity Shield by edging out Kakamega Homeboyz in a penalty shootout.
If McKinstry manages to duplicate last season’s magic, his next leap—possibly towards his childhood dreams—may be just around the corner.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Johnny McKinstry
Who is Johnny McKinstry?
Johnny McKinstry is a Northern Irish soccer coach currently leading the Kenyan club Gor Mahia. He has previously managed national teams in Rwanda and Uganda and has also worked in club management in Lithuania and Bangladesh.
What challenges did Gor Mahia face before McKinstry took over?
Before McKinstry’s arrival, Gor Mahia struggled with financial difficulties and a FIFA-imposed transfer ban due to unpaid dues to former players. These issues led to consecutive disappointing seasons for the club.
How has McKinstry impacted Gor Mahia?
Under McKinstry’s leadership, Gor Mahia entered the 2023/24 Kenyan Premier League season as defending champions. His player-centric approach has been credited for the emergence of young talents like Benson Omala.
What notable challenges has McKinstry faced in his coaching career?
One of McKinstry’s earliest challenges was leading the Sierra Leone national team through the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Despite this, he managed to guide the team to its highest-ever FIFA World Ranking.
What jobs would Johnny McKinstry never turn down?
Johnny McKinstry has said that he would never turn down an opportunity to coach Northern Ireland or Newcastle United, showcasing his deep roots and connection to these two entities.
Is McKinstry planning to stay with Gor Mahia?
While McKinstry is content in his current role, he’s also ambitious and open to new opportunities. He has expressed a desire to work at the highest level possible in his coaching career.
What happened to Gor Mahia’s transfer ban and how might it affect the future?
Gor Mahia’s transfer ban has been lifted, but the club lost its qualification for the upcoming continental Champions League as ruled by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). However, the future looks promising, especially with emerging talents like Benson Omala on the team.
Who are some of McKinstry’s role models and influences?
As a child, McKinstry idolized the Newcastle team of the 1990s, particularly the side managed by Kevin Keegan. Keegan remains one of his greatest role models in soccer.
How does McKinstry view his role in international coaching?
McKinstry sees his role as more than just a coach. Given the public profile of international coaching, he believes he serves almost as an ambassador for the nation he is coaching, even if it is not his home country.
What was Gor Mahia’s recent performance like under McKinstry?
The team started the Kenyan Premier League season with a 1-1 draw against Sofapaka and won Kenya’s Charity Shield by beating Kakamega Homeboyz in a penalty shootout.
More about Johnny McKinstry
- Johnny McKinstry’s Coaching Career
- Gor Mahia’s History in Kenyan Premier League
- FIFA World Rankings: How They Work
- Sierra Leone and the 2014 Ebola Outbreak
- The Rise of Benson Omala: East Africa’s Soccer Prospect
- Confederation of African Football (CAF) and Gor Mahia
- Newcastle United in the 1990s: The ‘Entertainers’ Era
- Kevin Keegan: A Managerial Legacy
- Charity Shield: Kenya’s Premier Soccer Trophy
- Kenyan Premier League 2023/24 Season Preview